Volatile Substance Use

Volatile substance use (VSU) is the intentional breathing in of chemical substances by a person to feel drunk, buzzing or excited [23505]. Because the chemical substance is breathed in (or inhaled), these substances are also known as ‘inhalants’. Other terms include ‘petrol sniffing’, ‘chroming’, and ‘huffing’. Some every-day products that are used for sniffing include:

  • deodorant
  • air freshener
  • lighter fluid
  • fly spray
  • petrol.

As volatile substances are typically first used at a young age, the health effects of sniffing have implications for the developing brain and long term health of young people [38141][32216]. Exposure to toluene through sniffing volatile substances has been shown to be associated with impaired growth for both height and weight and a ‘failure to thrive’ in adolescents [32216]. Excessive harmful inhalant use has also been shown to lead to permanent acquired brain injury [32216][29075][24947].

Sniffing volatile substances, particularly butane, propane and aerosols, can cause sudden death [20888][30967]. Sudden sniffing death can happen when a person who has been sniffing does some exercise, or is stressed or scared (because this puts extra pressure on their heart).

The short-term effects from sniffing inhalants include:

  • tiredness
  • feeling nauseous (sick)
  • irregular heart beat (arrythmia)
  • memory loss (forgetful)
  • loss of consciousness
  • feelings of wellbeing.

Long term harms that can come from sniffing inhalants include:

  • brain damage
  • loss of hearing, vision or sense of smell
  • damage to the liver, kidneys and heart
  • damage to respiratory system
  • muscle weakness
  • developmental harm during pregnancy
  • increased risk of infections due to poor immunity
  • depression [23505][41612].



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